How do you create a career niche for yourself? It’s a question that has fascinated me as I’ve learnt from various roles and tracked the careers of others.
Kristy Grant is Chief Executive of the newly formed Lane Street Studios. But across her career she has carved herself a niche in unique spaces and education pipelines within the creative sector, starting with the Roxy5 film competition, through to Miramar Creative Centre and Courtney Creative.
I asked Kristy how she got started in the creative sector and the rundown on her various projects.
“My background was in trade and logistics and international marketing,” says Kristy.
“I moved down to Wellington from Auckland and eventually got a job working for an international trade and marketing company. I worked my way to the General Manager role and became the first woman to do so within that organisation. I remember presenting to the board full of senior gents for the first time about financial performance and future market expansion etc and I was terrified — I learned so much about how being prepared and knowing your subject matter backwards and forwards is the ultimate preparation for any presentation or interview.
“When it came time to leave, most of the trade roles were in Auckland or Christchurch and I didn’t want to leave Wellington. I started working on business development projects in Miramar and would work out of the Roxy Cinema as I loved the space and its connection to the film industry. I got to know Jamie Selkirk, who co-owns the Roxy, is a founder of Weta Workshop and won an Oscar for his editing work on Lord of the Rings.
“We started talking about the skill gaps in film and decided we wanted to work on an outreach and education programme. The Roxy5 competition was born out of those discussions, designed to provide a supportive, practical engagement programme for intermediate and high school students to learn about screen production and gain mentoring from industry leaders.
“We could then see the need for practical engagement at the tertiary level. Jamie owned another building on Park Road and we set up the Miramar Creative Centre in partnership with Victoria University of Wellington. The facility is again focused on establishing some fundamental and practical transferable skills for students within digital and physical screen production, with the benefit of being based right in the heart of our creative sector.
“From there we set up the exhibition space on Courtney Place — Courtney Creative. We were able to host Harry and Meghan on their royal visit to New Zealand and showcase the creative capacity of our screen sector in Wellington from prosthetics and makeup, costume, sculpture and paint on canvas through to music, film, VR and MR.
“So, we’ve built this pipeline opportunity for students in their educational development, and I started thinking about how we then get these young creatives into the workforce.
“Working with the Totara Trust, a family based in Upper Hutt, we are developing studio spaces out in Wallaceville, Upper Hutt. It’s a two-prong facility that offers world class commercial studios and the opportunity for in house and on-set training for those new to the industry. The focus is both traditional film and TV, as well as digital and virtual production — including gaming and interactive media.
“In November 2019, we started the market research and feasibility of building this studio — it’s all been privately funded. The opportunity was strong pre-COVID, however since our subsequent handling of the pandemic here, the demand for creating and shooting content in NZ has gone to the next level. And there’s a real opportunity for New Zealand and to lean into that in the coming years.
“A major streaming provider had 98 productions greenlit at the beginning of the year — since then only 16 have started production and 9 of those are here in NZ. Plus, the recent NZ Film Studio Infrastructure Study undertaken by NZ Trade and Enterprise, further reinforces this opportunity.
“A single large production can entail 500 crew jobs. All of those people need somewhere to live, eat, travel etc. and some will need training or cross-training. Our aim is to provide all of these supporting services within our neighbouring properties or via a short journey into Wellington.
“We’re also working on back-to-back production ability so workflow can be more consistent. We want to ensure that our teams can have secure jobs for as long as possible. It helps with attracting people to the sector as we move away from seasonal work and being able to provide solid work for the long-term.”
I asked Kristy what she sees as factors that have contributed to her success.
“I’ve been described as being a bit like a dog with a bone — when something’s right, is gaining momentum and I’m excited about it, I’ll push hard to drive the idea forward, and to identify and bring on board others with skills and competencies that I don’t have.
“When I hit pressure points, I throw more at it — I think it comes down to me finding the right people with the right skills to get involved. It doesn’t mean I’m more talented than others, I’m just happy to work hard at it, value the skills of others and just keep trying. That can present challenges for work-life balance though,” Kristy laughs.
I asked Kristy how she sees innovation influencing her work.
“I’ve had a great mentor in Jamie. He’s been in the industry since the 60’s and has seen the transition from traditional film to digital production. He was quite a traditional filmmaker — he used to literally cut and splice physical celluloid film. So, I’ve gained quite a good background understanding the physical capacity of film. I’ve also had the benefit of seeing digital transformation firsthand within the creative sector.
“If you watch the end credits in a movie, you can see how many departments are involved across countries and a lot of that happens remotely. I could just see the potential for New Zealand and our geographic isolation is no longer a barrier but an advantage for New Zealand to take on the world.
“That’s something that I’ve been banging on about for a while. I’m not inventing it, but I’ve been trying to incorporate this element into the facilities that we’ve developed and the programmes that we’ve established. It’s the capacity that technology now allows — to collaborate and continue business remotely. We can work alongside and gain substantial insights from people overseas without having to be physically with them.
“So, I think the nature of the screen sector is collaborative and innovative in its evolution, and it will continue to be so.”
I asked Kristy what advice she’d give to someone looking to pursue a new idea or venture.
“I think people underestimate the importance of a business proposal or plan. Do some research, understand who your audience is, how driven they are to buy into your plan and what are their pressure points. I think there’s just a lot of preparation to be done to understand your market and understanding intimately what you’re trying to achieve. And, socialize the idea, talk to people that you trust about it, get some feedback and be willing to get some constructive criticism.
“Overall, work on something that excites you and that you’re truly enthusiastic about. Also, ask yourself honestly “why am I doing this” — understanding and being comfortable with your drivers is key — the old cliche about when you enjoy something, it doesn’t feel like work, is so true.”
I asked Kristy what’s next.
“Ah, this environment is so fluid. I don’t think we’ll go back to how things were before, despite the New Zealand screen sector and many others being able to get back to work on current projects fairly quickly.
“For Lane Street Studios, our organisation has been set up to support the sustainability of our sector via physical buildings and infrastructure and the skills and capacity of our team and production teams via education and training pathways to employment.
“At the same time, we also see the absolute necessity for contingencies and a capacity to grow resilience, value diversity, invest in time needed for well-being and continue to operate in this current environment and where the impacts of this year take us in the future.”
Originally published at https://www.knooknz.com on November 24, 2020.